Posts tagged ‘albums of the year’
A year of surprises and a year of puzzles. Where did that Dr. Yen Lo album come from? Why didn’t the Holly Herndon and King Midas Sound albums deliver on their promise? How to explain the appeal of that Datblygu album?
Top 10 Albums
- Dr. Yen Lo – Days with Dr. Yen Lo
Underground rap veterans make a mostly-drumless concept album based around The Manchurian Candidate and it’s an improbably beautiful album of the year.
- Theo Burt – Gloss
Beyond any theoretical obfuscation the Automatics Group dude may run, this clearly sounds like a chip tune cover of an early Oval album. Mind-bogglingly lovely.
- Datblygu – Porwr Trallod
After two decades out of the game “The Welsh Fall” returns with an album that is more inventive and certainly more moving than anything Mark E. Smith has done in many years.
- Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs
Ludicrous 70s soft-rock schmaltz wedded to horrifyingly misanthropic lyrics. And yet everything is so pitch perfect that the whole is utterly seductive.
- Stephan Mathieu – Before Nostromo
This drone/ambient tribute to the first Alien movie yields one of Mathieu’s darkest and complex albums – and also one of his best.
- Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
A confident return to form after the extremely disappointing Divide & Exit. Still patchy but the best moments are as vividly righteous as they are deliriously vitriolic.
- Max Richter – From Sleep
Perhaps the eight-hour full version of Sleep is the real deal but this condensed version is in itself a real high point among the recent history of post-minimalist composition.
- Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal
Like the Datbygu album, this reduces song form to its bare essentials in order to deliver something incredibly courageous and emotionally raw.
- M.E.S.H. – Piteous Gate
An abstract electronic debut that has the kind of energy and inventiveness you only get when reach exceeds grasp.
- Dasha Rush – Sleepstep
Lovely nocturnal electronica which probably manages to be the lushest album ever released on Raster-Noton, without sacrificing the formal elegance associated with that label.
The Next 10
- Joanna Newsom – Divers
- Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete
- Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Sounding Lines
- Duane Pitre – Bayou Electric
- Holly Herndon – Platform
- King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1 Instrumentals
- Flying Saucer Attack – Instrumentals 2015
- Rabit – Communion
- Sunn O))) – Kannon
Aine O’Dwyer – Music for Church Cleaners Vol. I & II
Seekers International – Her Imperial Majesty
Mark Van Hoen – Nightvision
Other Great Albums
Tim Catlin & Machinefabriek – Whorls
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – A Year with 13 Moons
Crys Cole – Sand/Layna
Colleen – Captain of None
Ian William Craig – Cradle for Wanting
Sarah Davachi – Baron’s Court
The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Robin Fox – A Small Prometheus
Yair Elazar Glotman – Etudes
Chihei Hatakeyama – Moonlight Reflecting Over Mountains
Helm – Olympic Mess
Kid606 – Recollected Ambient Works Vol. 1: Bored of Excitement
King Midas Sound & Fennesz – Edition 1
Nicholas Krgovich – On Cahuenga
MED, Blu & Madlib – Bad Neighbor
Neu Balance – Rubber Sole
Vincent Parker – Purge
Philippe Petit – Multicoloured Shadows
Ramzi – Houti Kush
Run the Jewels – Meow the Jewels
Senking – Closing Ice
Wand – 1000 Days
Automatics Group – Summer Mix
General Magic & Pita – Fridge Trax Plus
Arthur Russell – Corn
Loscil – Plume
J Dilla – Dillatronic
Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics
Singles, EPs etc.
Kuma – Mine
Loop – Array 1
Loscil – For Greta
Sleaford Mods – Talk Bollocks
Anna Zaradny feat. Christian Fennesz – RE:EM
Oval – Retina Score
The Autechre show in Vancouver was so next-level that it seems reckless to list anything else beside it.
And of Course
There’s loads of stuff I still haven’t heard and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about. Still listening, still learning.
If you’re at all concerned about the place of music in our culture, 2014 was a terrible year. If you’re just looking for some awesome shit to listen to, it was a fantastic year. Who can keep up? This is, inevitably, an incomplete list. Still listening, still catching up.
Top 10 Albums
1. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused (4AD)
Hard to pick between this and the Fennesz but – really – Soused is some next-level shit
2. Fennesz – Bécs (Editions Mego)
A partial return to his Endless Summer sound and well worth the wait
3. Oval – Voa (self-released)
Technically, this came out digitally in 2013 but the vinyl is the real deal
4. Diamond Version – CI (Mute)
Top-ten-worthy for Leslie Winer’s cameo alone – the rest is just (delicious) icing
5. Tape – Casino (Hapna)
Pure melodic loveliness? No: specifically impure melodic loveliness
6. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
His most accessible yet but still utterly, utterly knackered
7. Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (Editions Mego)
Ambarchi’s best in ages – imagine a Moritz von Oswald Arkestra
8. Loscil – Sea Island (Kranky)
Finally, Loscil manages to integrate discontinuous elements into his oceanic swells
9. Black to Comm – Black to Comm (Type)
A massive, mind-fraying psychedelic journey into the heart of the drone
10. Locust – After the Rain (Editions Mego)
Inexcusably gorgeous radiophonic melodicism from Mark van Hoen and co
- The Bug – Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune)
The best bits are as good as anything but there are a few duff tracks
- Sleaford Mods – Divide & Exit (Harbinger Sound)
A very disappointing, patchy follow-up to Austerity Dogs but the peaks are miles high
- Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
- Lee Gamble – KOCH (Pan)
- LCC – D/evolution (Editions Mego)
- Tujiko Noriko – My Ghost Comes Back (Editions Mego)
- Vladislav Delay – Visa (Ripatti)
- Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
- Fennesz – Mahler Remixed (self-released)
- Eric Holm – Andøya (Subtext)
- Nicholas Krgovich – On Sunset (NK World Service)
- Kyoka – Is (Is Superpowered) (Raster-Noton)
- Klara Lewis – Ett (Editions Mego)
- Madlib – Piñata Beats (Madlib Invazion), Rock Konducta Vol. 1 and Rock Konducta Vol. 2 (Rappacats)
- Namoi Punk – Television Man (Captured Tracks)
- Nochexxx – Thrusters (Ramp)
- Thee Oh Sees – Drop (Castle Face)
- Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
- Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
- Arbutus – Bedroom Safari (Vague Sound)
- Sarah Davachi – August Harp (Cassuna)
- Holly Herndon – Chorus and Home (RVNG Intl.)
- Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Nottz (Little Teddy) and Tiswas (Invada)
- The Bug vs. Earth – Boa/Cold (Ninja Tune)
- Ian Crause – The Song of Phaeton (self-released)
- Dalglish – Dorcha Aigeann (Ge-stell)
- Lee Gamble – Kuang (Pan)
- Katie Gately/Tlaotlon – split (FatCat)
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Commissions I (Warp)
- The Fates – Furia (Finders Keepers)
- Leslie Winer – Witch (Superior Viaduct)
- Basic Channel – Q-Loop (Basic Channel)
- The Fall – The Unutterable (Let Them Eat Vinyl)
- Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Students of Decay)
- Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up + (Ipecac)
- Kate Bush in London
- Loop in Vancouver
- Big Joy Festival in Vancouver
- Roly Porter
- Sleaford Mods
Oh and I had an album out this year, for what it’s worth.
I’m going to keep it short this year for four reasons: (i) Promoting the new connect_icut album is time consuming, particularly when it’s just become available on vinyl and CD; (ii) most of the picks here are pretty obvious, at least to anyone who’s seen previous Bubblegum Cage lists; (iii) specifically, it should be bloody obvious what this here blog’s favourite album of the year is and everything else kinda, sorta pales by comparison; (iv) it seems like nobody even reads music blogs anymore, so…
If you’re looking for an overview of what 2013 was all about musically, then look to point two, above. In spite (or perhaps because) of the Internet opening everything up to everyone all the time, seems like it’s easier than ever to just stay in your own musical bubble and only bother with new albums by your favourite artists. Or maybe some of us are just getting old. Either way, it doesn’t feel great.
As always, this was written in a hurry, at the last minute. Apologies for the inevitable, grammatical and factual errors.
Here’s the list…
Top Ten Albums of the Year
1. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (no label) LP
This was the big one, of course. In a year of long-awaited albums (Boards of Canada, Daft Punk…) this was the longest awaited. And in many ways, the rapt critical reception it received was puzzling. The fact is, m b v: doesn’t hang together as an album; has a rushed, demo-ish feel; features two throwaway instrumentals; starts with what sounds like a Slowdive B-side; in no way lives up to any of the band’s classic, Creation-era work.
Here’s the thing, though: MBV’s Kevin Shields is still so far ahead of the pack that none of that really matters. Even a below-par Valentines album achieves peaks of complete otherness that nobody else working in any genre of music can come close to matching. And the peaks here are truly vertiginous, especially the ecstatic “Only Tomorrow” and the roller-coasting “In Another Way”. What is more, m b v contains some of Shields’ most sophisticated songwriting as well of some of his most bizarre experiments. Disappointing? Kinda. Godlike? Oh yeah!
2. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (Mute) 3LP
Another long-awaited album and another mixed bag. Shaking the Habitual is a rambling, inconsistent mess of haranguing political doggerel, primitive electro blats and grotesque transmogrifications. But it’s delivered with such wild-eyed conviction that one can hardly help but be sucked in. It’s hard to fault The Knife’s ambition or the commitment they show to their cause. The wonderful “Full of Fire” acts as a telling microcosm of the album, thundering blindly towards the horizon, becoming more crazed and mutated as it goes on and on and on.
3. Secret Pyramid – Movements of Night (Students of Decay) LP
The work of Vancouver’s Secret Pyramid is sure to appeal to fans of cultish dreampop acts like Flying Saucer Attack and Lovesliescrushing. But on his first vinyl release, he truly comes into his own with a series of genuinely haunting nocturnal ruminations, each based around a simple, achingly beautiful chord progression circling amid a gathering swarm of spectral drones. This is a pitch-perfect album experience that absolutely deserves your attention.
4. Forest Swords – Engravings (Tri Angle) 2LP
While he has associated himself with American labels peddling voguish hypnagogic pop and witch house, England’s Forest Swords has a great deal more in common with the darker end of 90s UK post-rock, particularly Scorn and The Third Eye Foundation (more of whom later, sort of). Chiming guitars, bumping beats, eerie samples and a mood of vague foreboding are all deployed to emotionally evocative effect. Engravings is the sound of a major talent slowly and subtly emerging.
5. Cindytalk – A Life is Everywhere (Editions Mego) LP
Another album of solo laptop exploration from under-appreciated industrial music veteran Gordon Sharp. Like all Cindytalk records, A Life is Everywhere furthers Sharp’s singular vision, which is as empathetic as it is harsh.
6. Dalglish – Niaiw Ot Vile (Pan) LP
It has been observed elsewhere that Dalglish manages to evoke deep melancholy while deploying hardly any of the signifiers one would normally expect from emotionally-downcast music. Imagine a more contemplative take on Autechre’s most abstract moments.
7. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus 7 (Warp) 2LP
Like Dalglish, OPN’s Daniel Lopatin makes instrumental music that is both conceptually smart and emotionally evocative. R Plus 7 uses complex structures, self-consciously cheesy presets and sliced-up digital madness to explore the loneliest stretches of the information superhighway.
8. Matt Elliott – Only Myocardial Infarction Can Break Your Heart (Ici D’ailleurs) LP
For those of you who haven’t followed the Third Eye Foundation man’s progress, he’s now crafting singer-songwriter albums mixing elements of Leonard Cohen, flamenco, Yiddish folk song and surreal electronics. This is not as good as 2012’s The Broken Man but it’s still pretty damned powerful.
9. Stephan Mathieu – Un Coeur Simple (Baskaru) CD
On The Falling Rocket (Dekorder, 2LP), Mathieu crafted his darkest drone epic to date. But the more diverse Un Coeur Simple was his finest release in a typically prolific year.
10 Locust – You’ll be Safe Forever (Editions Mego) LP
Another solid effort from Mark Van Hoen, returning to his mid 90s alias and honestly sounding like little or no time has passed since he last used it. If you like Boards of Canada and don’t think “trip-hop” is a dirty word, you’re going to love this.
Other Top-Notch Stuff
Ian Crause Downloads
Talking of the mid-90s, Ian Crause has essentially picked up where his band Disco Inferno left off back then. That may not seem too exciting to those not aware of how far ahead of the game DI’s virtual-reality rock was but the tracks posted on Crause’s Bandcamp page over the last 18 months or so represent some of the most startlingly original music of the last 20 years. It’s shocking this material hasn’t gained wider exposure. Still, the fact that the page appears to be blank right now might suggest he has plans for some kind of real-world release.
Diamond Version – EP3, EP4 and EP5 (Mute) 12″s
In the age of EDM and brostep, it’s nice to know that electronic music can still deliver visceral thrills without having to dumb itself down one bit. The Raster-Noton-associated duo of Alva Noto and Byetone went from strength to strength to strength in 2013. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
The Best 2012 Release This Here Blog Totally Slept On
Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes (Pan) LP
This fellow has a lot in common with Actress, not just in his habit of pulverizing techno tropes into unstable sound dust but also in his ability to convey a sense that the whole thing is part of some impenetrable prank. But Lee Gamble’s background is apparently more academic and his deconstructions are more extreme. Everything on Dutch Tvashar Plumes sounds somehow utterly wrong and yet the album has a consistent atmosphere and sense of development that belies its outwardly half-baked conception. Puzzling and wonderful.
Dutch Tvashar Plumes very nearly made it into the top 10 for 2013 but it turns out to have been released in November 2012. Huh.
This is an incomplete list of other worthy releases. More may be added, if and when they spring to mind:
- Aerosol Constellations – Dark Side of the Sun (Isolated Now Waves/Thankless) LP
- Juan Atkins & Morris von Oswald – Borderland (Tresor) 3×12″
- Autechre – Exai (Warp) 4LP
- Blondes – Swisher (Rvng Intl.) 2LP
- Dean Blunt – The Redeemer (Hippos in Tanks) LP
- Broadcast – Berberian Sound Studio (Warp) LP
- The Bug and King Midas Sound – various singles
- Sarah Davachi – The Untuning of the Sky (Full Spectrum) cassette
- EVOL – Proper Headshrinker (Mego) LP
- The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red) LP
- Father Murphy – Anyway Your Children will Deny It: 9 Heretical Views (Aagoo) LP
- Fennesz – 17.02.12 (Song Cycle) 2LP
- Marcus Fjellstrom – Epilogue M (Aagoo) 12″
- Katie Gately – s/t (Public Information) 12″
- Tim Hecker – Virgins (Kranky) 2LP
- Giuseppe Ielasi/Kassel Jaeger – Parallel/Greyscale (Mego) LP
- Kemper Norton – Lowermoor (More Than Human) 12″
- Nicholas Krgovich – Who Cares? (JAZ) LP
- Loscil – Intervalo (Frond) LP
- Main – Ablation (Mego) LP
- Mountains – Centralia (Thrill Jockey) LP
- Murcof & Phillipe Petit – First Chapter (Rev.Lab) LP
- Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin (Castle Face) LP
- Oval – Calidostopia! (no label) download
- Vincent Parker – Hypo (no label) download
- Duane Pitre – Bridges (Important) LP
- Plays: Four – Lay Doe (More Than Human) 12″
- Prophecy Sun – Sleep Fever (Panospria) download
- Quasimoto – Yessir Whatever (Stones Throw) LP
- Roger Robinson – Novella EP and Contemplate Mixtape (no label) download
- Ty Segal – Sleeper (Drag City) LP
- Secret Pyramid – Distant Works I (Proposition) cassette
- Souns & Scant Intone – Attempts Space Time (Panospria) download
- Touch Sevens singles
- Zomby – With Love (4AD) 3LP
Looking Forward to in 2014
- No UFO’s
This here blog isn’t dead, just sleeping. Maybe. In any case, the temptation to indulge in an end-of-year wrap-up post was just too great to resist. Actually getting around writing the post or even compiling an albums-of-the-year list proved to be tricky though. There was, after all, the promise of a new My Bloody Valentine album arriving in mid December. With this veritable sword of Damocles a-dangling, who could make a judgement about the year in music? Only a fool, surely!?
Still, the penny had to drop eventually and it was certainly bound to drop before the album. Waiting until a new MBV album comes out before you do something? Now that’s foolish! No point in basing your blogging around Kevin Shields’ promises. The show must go on. Lists must be compiled, judgements made. But if the (alleged) album does emerge before the end of 2012, this entire post will be null and void. Oh well.
That’s one caveat. Another is that this December has proven to be unusually busy and stressful. Therefore, this typically epic (though probably shorter than usual) year-end post was typed in an even-more-than-usually-even-more-than-usually haphazard fashion, in stolen moments, usually late at night. No proofreading, no promises of accuracy or coherence.
Now back to judging other people’s efforts…
On the whole , 2012 had a similar feel to 2011 – a creeping sense that this was a terrible time for music, uncannily coupled with an inability to keep up with the endless stream of worthwhile (and often excellent) releases. This, of course, has something very boring to do with the Internet, so let’s gloss over it and examine some of the releases that didn’t slip by our notice.
One more thing before we get to that though. As ever, comments are strongly encouraged. Don’t be afraid to point out glaring omissions. Don’t be afraid to call this here blog on its bullshit. Don’t be afraid.
Top Ten Albums of the Year
1. Sylvain Chauveau & Stephan Mathieu – Palimpsest (Schwebung) LP
French polymath Sylvain Chauveau* and German sound art dude Stephan Mathieu – both longtime Bubblegum Cage III favourites – made the admirable decision to collaborate. And the results turned out to be even more than – even better than – the sum of their parts. Apparently, Mathieu sent Chauveau a series of drones, over which he expected the multi-talented composer to arrange some string and piano parts. Instead, Sylvain chose to sing a few songs by arch indie rock moper Bill Callahan aka Smog. The combination of Mathieu’s ominous drones, Callahan’s morbidly mordant lyrics and Chauveau’s rich, slightly cracked voice is astonishingly effective and Palimpsest is a wonderful example of what happens when everything just falls into place. A brilliant idea, perfectly realised. Anything with Sylvain Chauveau’s voice on it seems to polarize listeners but for Bubblegum Cage III, this is the album of the year – no doubt.
(*He was billed as being from Belgium when he played in Vancouver but the Internet suggests otherwise.)
2. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD) 2LP
Another maddeningly odd collection of theatrical avant rock opuses from the legendary recluse. The first record, in particular, is breathtakingly weird and powerful. The whole sequence of songs from “Corps de Blah”, through the monstrous “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)” and on to “Epizootics!” is surely one of the most extraordinary, hilarious and disgusting sequences of songs in the history of recorded music. Sadly, the album doesn’t retain that level of quality right to the end but even its weaker tracks are dotted with moments of truly impressive ingenuity and courage. A legend walks among us again.
“Corps de Blah”
3. Holly Herndon – Movement (RVNG Intl.) LP
An extremely accomplished mixture of advanced granular synthesis, fearless vocal improvisation and Detroit techno pastiche from the year’s most exciting new artist. Movement recalls the classic early 2000’s computer music of Mego artists like Farmers Manual and General Magic, as well as the sidereal electronica of Love’s Secret Domain-era Coil. What’s perhaps most exciting about Movement is that it represents an increasingly rare instance of a trained electroacoustic composer who is willing to step outside the academy and present her work in a nominally “pop” context. The results are uneven but that only makes them more exciting, in a weird way. Movement manages to sound like a perfectly assured piece of work and like the first tentative steps towards something authentically incredible.
4. The Automatics Group – Summer Mix (Entr’acte) CD
Rave-pop hits reduced to digital sound dust by this consistently intriguing UK sound art project. Conceptually fascinating digital signal processing procedures are brought to bear on a range of bangin’ choons to produce something that sounds like a fire-damaged tape of classic Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound tracks. Somehow, it all has a remarkable amount of emotional resonance. Summer Mix feels like the melancholy undertow of the party-hard ethic that seems like mainstream music’s prevailing reaction in the face of endless recession and oncoming ecological disaster. Reading too much into it? Nah – this shit is deep!
Technically, this was released right at the end of 2011 but it came out way too late to appear in any 2011 lists and it’s just too damn good to be omitted from this here blog’s 2012 list. So there.
“Roger Sanchez/Eric Prydz”
5. Woebot – Hallo (Hollow Earth) CD
Abandoning sample collage in favour of English-eccentric songwriter primitivism, Woebot made the bravest album of the year. Not that Bish Bosch wasn’t madly courageous but Scott Walker is a seasoned, highly-respected pro, who’s been in the game since his teens, able to muster considerable resources at the drop of a hat (or a twitch of the sunglasses). Mathew “Woebot” Ingram, on the other hand, is a hobbyist and autodidact who started making music relatively late in life. Hallo is a grand act of will. Recorded with admirable depth and clarity, Matt’s rudimentary instrumental and vocal performances are thrown out into the spotlight, seemingly unprepared for the audience’s scrutiny. While there can be no doubt about how difficult exposing himself in this way must have been, it’s all a bit of a trick. Everything seems rickety and tentative at first but once you’ve exercised the aforementioned scrutiny, you’ll notice a stubborn, assured confidence to these simple songs. The man has a vision and he means to see it through. He’s a visionary.
6. Actress – RIP (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
Another extremely satisfying digital techno journey from the enigmatic West Midlander. Apparently, RIP is a concept album based on Paradise Lost. It certainly seems to have a grand narrative behind it – starting off gently and gradually accumulating dramatic gravitas as it progresses. In terms of Darren Cunningham’s personal journey, RIP is certainly a step in the right direction. Less reliant on muddy side-chaining compression and general lo-fi tactics, Cunningham has the confidence to let his beats pop and granulated sample loops sing. Rather confusingly, music critics continue to portray Actress as an earthy analogue type, even as he displays a growing mastery of contemporary computer music techniques. But that’s the thing about Darren Cunningham – he’s never quite what you expect him to be. He seldom does exactly what you imagine he might but he always does it at just the right moment.
7. Oren Ambarchi – Audience of One (Touch) 2LP
Ambarchi was even-more-than-usually prolific this year but nothing else he released quite scaled the heights of this double set (though the duo with Robin Fox, discussed below, came pretty close). When experimental musicians move away from electronic minimalism and towards a more fleshed-out live band sound, they tend to lose the plot a bit. But the distinctly organic and collaborative feel of this album is every bit as focused as any of Ambarchi’s solo sine-tone guitar excursions. While the audacious, 33-minute “Knots” is the clear centrepiece of this album, it’s the more compact, song-based material that has the greatest impact – specifically “Salt” and “Fractured Mirror”, which turns out to be a cover of a track by Ace Frehley of Kiss! Oren Ambarchi is a true obsessive who knows the mutually-alien worlds of classic rock and avant experimentalism inside and out. And he knows how to meld them like pretty much nobody else around right now. Also, our friend Crys Cole plays on this record. Yay, go Crys!
8. Fieldhead – A Correction (Gizeh) LP
It’s easy – and fun – to see this series of blustery electronic miniatures as a loving tribute to Canada’s great north-west. Just as Loscil’s Endless Falls did in 2010, A Correction perfectly conjures the mood of a rainy Vancouver afternoon, using warm chord washes, grainy digital electronics and melancholy strings (Fieldhead was based in Vancouver when he recorded this, though he has since moved on). However, compared to Loscil’s manicured lawn of sound, this is an overgrown weed patch, wild and unruly. That’s wild as in wilderness, not as in rock’n’roll excess. This is perfect music for staring into the vast expanse of fuck all that lies to the north of any Canadian city. Having said that, it’s actually a very compact album – shorter than that one long Oren Ambarchi track! To be so expansive and so concise all at once is quite an achievement.
9. Moritz von Oswald Trio – Fetch (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
While nothing can quite match the future shock of the MVOT’s debut (Vertical Ascent), this collection is probably the Trio’s most well-rounded collection of minimal dub-jazz. More than anything, Fetch recalls the cinematic/industrial ambient-fusion albums Australia’s Paul Schutze was producing in the 90s. Which is to say, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard anything quite like this. Moritz von Oswald’s past with dub techno pioneers Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound is audible throughout but it’s filtered through a seemingly unique approach to live band interplay – the specifics of which are hard to pinpoint. Whatever may be going on, it has led to an album that’s consistently listenable and stylish but never overly decorative or polite. It’s like making friends with a rather erudite extra terrestrial.
10. Mark van Hoen – The Revenant Diary (Editions Mego) 2LP
Another superb solo album from the ex-Seefeel/Locust/Scala guy. Perfect electronic avant pop for bedsit brooding. According to Editions Mego, the basis of this album was recorded “on four-track tape, using a minimal set-up, reminiscent of his first early 80s musical adventures”. However, it doesn’t exactly sound like Sebadoh or whatever. The Revenant Diary is full of chunky beats, sliced-up loops and time-stretched voices. The fact that all this digital magic really does sound like it’s been recorded to cassette tape gives the whole thing an uncanny, ghostlike feel, which recalls both Boards of Canada and The Fall’s underrated Bend Sinister (which was mastered from a cassette). Like all of this guy’s best work, it’s intensely personal but also very accessible. Seems like only a matter of time before he gets the widespread acclaim he’s deserved for so long.
“No Distance (Except the One Between You and Me)”
Other Absolutely Top-Notch Stuff
My Bloody Valentine – EPs 1988-1991 (Sony) 2CD
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (Sony) CD
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (Sony) 2CD
At last! The long-promised MBV remasters, including remixed versions of three never-officially-released-but-still-widely-circulated demos on the EPs compilation. Still no vinyl though. And it really seems like the press/public response to these releases was a little muted – they just kinda dribbled out, having leaked a couple of years previously, around the originally-slated release date. None of these CDs were even mentioned in The Wire magazine’s reissues-of the-year list, for instance. But make no mistake – THIS IS THE BEST MUSIC EVER RELEASED. EVER! More than 20 years after the original releases, it still sounds at least a decade ahead of anything else happening in rock, electronic or experimental music. Show some respect – this is it!
Diamond Version – EP1 (Mute) 12″
Diamond Version – EP2 (Mute) 12″
Two EPs of block-rockin’ glitch beats from Raster Noton’s Alva Noto and Byetone. The worst you can say about this stuff is that it’s like the thinking person’s brostep. But this material is as smart and sophisticated as it is brutally efficient. It’s absolutely precision tooled to sound as pulse-increasingly insurrectionary as possible but it still finds time to open out big yawning chasms of dub space. And with the ironic deployment of corporate sloganeering, sometimes delivered via synthesized robo-voices, the overall impression is of a post-punk Kraftwerk. This may be the most purely exciting music of the year.
Burial – Kindred (Hyperdub) 12″
With Burial going from strength to strength, Kindred was the post-dubstep pioneer’s most ambitious release to date. Epic to the point of practically being a mini album, this 12″ sees Burial in uncompromising mood. He’s not one to rest on his laurels – he’d want to make himself far more uncomfortable than that. By the time you read this, there should be another 12″ in circulation. It’ll probably be bonkers!
Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian) 2LP
Ian Crause – The Song of Phaethon (no label) download
The CD came out last year but it’s worth flagging up the rather fancy 2LP edition of The Five EPs. Absolutely peerless sampledelic post-rock genius – and a historically important document of a band at the height of its powers.
The Song of Phaethon, meanwhile, is a recent solo release from Disco Inferno front-man Ian Crause. Essentially, it’s a single epic song divided into three parts. Much closer to the classic DI sound (with a touch of The Legendary Pink Dots, oddly enough), it was one of the most remarkable and innovative releases of the year. Unbelievably, Crause self-released it through his Bandcamp page because (he claims) he can’t get any record labels interested in his new material. It’s a truly shameful reflection on our times that there hasn’t been some kind of indie bidding war for this material. Make no mistake, like The 5 EPs, this is historic stuff.
Plays:four – Lay Doe (no label) download
Phenomenal debut EP from this terrifyingly young Vancouver electronica trio. The template for Lay Doe clearly comes from early 2000s glitch techno, with Jan Jelinek emerging as a particularly strong influence. But the end result has a claustrophobic, compressed sound that is distinctly contemporary. Seems like a tantalizing glimpse of great things to come.
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist (Software) 2LP
Oneohtrix Point Never/Rene Hell – split (NNA Tapes) LP
Two really great releases featuring Daniel “OPN” Lopatin. The collab with Tim Hecker was definitely a strong top ten contender and both of these records feel like “proper”, fully-realised releases, rather that stopgap projects. It’s worth noting that the Rene Hell side of the split LP is actually really fantastic too.
Oren Ambarchi & Robin Fox – Connected (Kranky) LP
Oren Ambarchi – Sagittarian Domain (Editions Mego) LP
More Ambarchi stuff. The collab with fellow Australian Robin Fox (an excellent solo artist in his own right) is a finely-wrought duo to rank alongside the Hecker/Lopatin record – and, as such, another strong contender for the top ten.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love) 2LP
Some fans found it an unwelcome retreat from the finely-tuned lo-fi of Stott’s previous EPs but – to these ears – Luxury Problems is his most focused work to date. Imagine the new age post-punk of early 4AD, locked to the minimal techno grid.
The Caretaker – Patience (After Sebald) (History Always Favours the Winners) LP
A great soundtrack to a great film about a great writer. The Caretaker’s finest hauntological moment.
KTL – V (Editions Mego) 2LP
Fenn O’Berg – In Hell (Editions Mego) 2LP
Another great year for Peter “Pita” Rehberg and his Editions Mego family of labels. No solo Pita work emerged but he did contribute to these two excellent releases. The KTL track featuring Johann Johannsson is particularly impressive.
Valgeir Sigurðsson – Architecture of Loss (Bedroom Community) LP
Probably the best “neo-classical” album of the year – certainly ahead of the pack in its expertly-controlled edgy dissonance. And you’ve gotta love that crazy Icelandic surname.
Monolake – Ghosts (Imbalance Computer Music) 2LP
A “dancier” take on the moodily obsessive sound Robert Henke perfected on his masterpiece, Silence. A little patchy but with many moments of true brilliance. Oh and live, loud and quadrophonic at Seattle’s Decibel festival, this material really was something to behold.
No UFO’s – MPC Tracks Vol. 1 (Nice Up International) cassette
Cloudface – Wyre Drive (Nice Up International) cassette
No UFO’s brings the murky, sample-based discursiveness. MPC Tracks sounds like Demdike Stare suffering from chronic indecision and deserves a vinyl reissue. The Cloudface is really good too, offering a more analogue take the on the same aesthetic
En – Already Gone (Students of Decay) LP
Now that Mountains decided to go analogue/crap, the En boys look set to become the new kings of naturalistic electro-drone.
Loscil – Sketches from New Brighton (Kranky) 2LP
Gradual development is the name of the game with Loscil, on the micro and macro levels. Just as each song builds and morphs almost imperceptibly, each new album subtly introduces a few new ideas. Sketches from New Brighton is no exception. It’s not his most fully-realised album but when you begin an album title with the word “sketches”, you pretty much excuse that in advance.
Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland – Black is Beautiful (Hyperdub) LP
It’s Hype Williams, yo. If you like Dean and Inga’s brand of smarmy hipster dicking about, you’ll love it. If you don’t, you may have no soul.
Fennesz – AUN (Ash International) CD
Fennesz – Fa 2012 (Editions Mego) 12″
Fennesz Wozencroft – Liquid Music (Touch) USB drive
AUN is a fairly forgettable film soundtrack. Fennesz by numbers, really. Excellent in places but no substitute for a fully-fledged new solo masterpiece. Fennesz’s side of the 12″ is just okay too, revisiting a track from his debut album Hotel Paral.lel. The Mark Fell remix it’s twinned with is actually kinda shitty. Liquid Music, an audio-visual collaboration with Touch boss Jon Wozencroft (reviewed here), is definitely the most satisfying of these releases. And of course, the aforementioned Fenn O’Berg album is excellent.
Richard Youngs – Core to the Brave (Root Strata) LP
One of the better Youngs releases of recent times. Might be described as “noise-folk”.
Vladislav Delay – Kuopio (Raster-Noton) CD
A real late arrival. Haven’t had time to get to grips with this but it’s Vladislav Delay doing what he does – wonky glitch-dub – which has to be a good thing. Sounds better than the last album – maybe a bit dancier.
V. Vecker Ensemble – In the Tower (Majorly) LP
Nam Shub – Cascadia (no label) LP
Post-rock is alive and well in Western Canada, as evidenced by these two highly-commendable releases from Vancouver. Keep an eye on the Majorly label.
Gunshae – Out of Darkness… Light (Ohm Resistance) CD
Thomas Koner – Novaya Zemlya (Touch) LP
Deison – Quiet Rooms (Aagoo) CD
Filip Gorecki – Aura & the Dark Fruit (Panospria) download
And ambient music of the mean-and-moody variety is alive and well all across the globe. Particularly nice to see that Koner and Vancouver’s Gunshae are still in the game. Gunshae’s Lost Cascadian Suite is also available for free download from Panospria, as is the excellent debut album from fellow Vancouverite Filip Gorecki.
White Poppy – I Had a Dream (Not Not Fun) cassette
Best indie rock band in Vancouver? Sounds a bit like Papa Sprain! Worth breaking the Not Not Fun boycott for.
Vincent Parker – Import Culture: Respecanize P2 (no label) download
More Vancouver goodness, this time of the beat-driven, electronical kind.
Ty Segall – Twins (Drag City) LP
The Oh Sees – Putrifiers II (In the Red) LP
With “EDM” psuedo-raves dominating arenas across North America and rock seemingly absent from the mainstream for the first time in 50 years, it’s odd to see the dogged survival of the post-White Stripes garage rock underground. And it’s even odder to note that some of the stuff it’s producing is pretty fantastic.
prOphecy Sun – Bird Curious (Panospria) download
Spell – Lull (Panospria) download
More from Vancouver. Bird Curious is an album of eccentric improvisations recorded on an iPhone. Lull is the second EP from prOphecy Sun’s dark electropop project. Download them here and here.
Seekersinternational – The Call from Below (Digitalis) LP
Yet more goodness from Vancouver. This one sounds like a more maximal, chaotic take on Rhythm & Sound’s dubwise early 12″s.
Nicolas Krgovich – Real Life (no label) download
In lieu of a new album from Krgovich’s No Kids, we’ll have to accept this solid collection of covers in an 80s R&B stylee.
Mute Branches – So Remote (no label) download
A delightful little IDM obscurity. Well worth taking a chance on.
Father Murphy – Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It (Aagoo) LP
A very disconcerting avant rock effort, which pokes around the darker corners of post-punk. Reviewed here.
Bellows – Reelin’ (Entr’acte) CD
Giuseppe Ielasi – Untitled (Entr’acte) CD
Two more tasty slices of electro-improv featuring the ever-reliable Italian Giuseppe Ielasi.
Raime – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black) LP
Spartan, haunted beats for fans of Scorn and Seefeel’s underrated Succour.
Cowards – See ‘Em, Be ‘Em (Cowards) 7″
Twangy avant-punk from – yes – Vancouver. Sounds exactly like early Swans if you play it at the wrong speed.
Lee Gamble – Diversions (Pan) 12″
Dark ambient tracks made with samples of the atmospheric breakdowns from rave records. The execution doesn’t quite live up to the concept but what a concept!
Black to Comm – Earth (De Stijl) LP
Ekkehard Ehlers – Adikia (Staubgold) LP
Two slightly disappointing efforts from longtime Bubblegum Cage favourites. In each case, creaky-spooky soundscaping is thrown even further off kilter by some frankly grating vocal interjections. These are both worthwhile efforts but they don’t deliver on the level we have come to expect.
Reissues, Vinyl Editions etc.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts (Software) 5LP
This here blog’s ability to comment on this here item will depend almost entirely on that there Santa’s generosity.
A.R. Kane – Complete Singles Collection (One Little Indian) 2CD
Nice to see this collection of proto-shoegaze classics getting the reissue treatment. The first disc essentially constitutes the band’s best album – surpassing even the brilliant but uneven 69.
Can – The Lost Tapes (Mute) 5LP
A trawl through the krautrock legends’ jam-tape archive yields a surprisingly (though, it has to be said, not entirely) consistent collection of classic-era material.
Dreamscape – La-Di-Da Recordings (Kranky) LP
A very welcome archival LP collecting almost the complete works of this obscure shoegaze act from Bristol. The second release on this list that sounds a bit like Papa Sprain.
Sonic Youth – Smart Bar, Chicago, 1985 (Goofin’) 2LP
A highly-exhilarating live bootleg recording from back in the day, digitally restored by Lee Renaldo’s son (!)
Top Ten Live Sets
Faulty memory will probably ensure that something particularly thrilling has been omitted from this particular section (see edits, below) but off the top of the old head, it would go something like this:
- Monolake in Seattle
- Byetone in Seattle
- Actress in Vancouver
- Sylvain Chauveau in Vancouver
- Oneohtrix Point Never in Vancouver
- Ty Segall in Vancouver
- Secret Pyramid in Vancouver
- Plays:four in Vancouver
- Cut Hands in Seattle
- Biosphere in Seattle
And that’s about if for another 12 months. See you in the New Year! Or not. Whatever.
- Oh yeah, Neil Young & Crazy Horse played a couple of months ago. That would be about number six in the Live Sets list.
- Haven’t heard the new BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa yet.
- Didn’t the other guy from Basic Channel have some kind of solo album out this year?
- Also forgot about Type’s reissue of Biokinetics by Porter Ricks. Definitely one of the reissues of the year.
- RIP MCA.
- Ah! Saw Swans play too. That was even better than Neil Young. Not that interested in hearing the new album but the show was great.
- Probably need to hear that Shackleton thing.
- Mount Eerie did an awesome show in Vancouver. Forgot about that one. And didn’t he do two albums this year?
- It’s weird how people have commented on this post via Twitter, Tumblr and Last FM but not in the comments box for the post itself. The Internet has changed.
Another year ends and along comes another Bubblegum Cage III end-of-year list. The usual caveats apply: this rather lengthy post was pecked out over a disjointed series of sittings. No critical rigour or close proofreading was applied at any stage. What is more, there was a major technical calamity at one point, which caused an entire evening’s worth of work to be lost forever. The upshot of all this is that the grammar may be marginal and the writing a little half-baked. But the music’s all that matters and the music is great.
So, what’s been happening? Well there’s this… and then…
Well… sometimes, it seems like every year is simultaneously a better year for music than the previous one and a worse year for music than ever. Let’s look on the dark side first, get that out of the way. It’s hard to remember a year when music per se was more marginal to western popular culture or when mainstream pop music was more shamelessly heinous. For most people, music has become little more than an optional feature of smartphones, designed to pump out shitty-sounding MP3s of hyper-compressed uber kitsch at the most antisocial of opportunities. And while the mainstream squanders the astonishing potential of digital audio technology in that manner, the greatest creative minds of the musical underground have turned into a bunch of look-back bores, intent upon steadfastly refusing to explore the full potential of the vintage synthesizers they just bought on eBay. Bah!
Then there’s digital maximalism, which just seems like a wearying, indiscriminate outpouring of collective incontinence. Still, there is a different type of torrential digital maximalism that can’t help but yield some positive results, if only by statistical probability. That is to say there continues to be an ever-gathering cascade of interesting-at-the-very-least new (and old) music raining down on us all on a daily basis – to the point that it’s utterly impossible to keep up, let alone appraise it all in a meaningful way. While this means that most of the truly great, potentially important albums end up getting overlooked… well, hasn’t that always been the case? The cream rises to the top, sure – but it usually takes a while.
It can sometimes seem like the greats are drowning in a sea of merely-goods. But let’s face it, there have only ever been about half a dozen truly classic albums released in any given 12-month period. That hasn’t changed in the last 50, 60 years. And even the most perceptive of critics will find it hard to figure out precisely which albums those are until said albums have been around for at least a couple of years. Of course, at the Bubblegum Cage III, we think the most perceptive of critics are losers. We know full well what the most important records of 2011 were and we know it right now. So what are we waiting for? Here they are…
Top 10 Albums of the Year
1. Seefeel – s/t (Warp) LP
Quite the comeback from the UK post-rock legends – this is exactly what Bubblegum Cage III wanted to be hearing in 2011. Which is to say it sounded like nothing else this year and flew recklessly in the face of fashion. No vintage synths, four-track fug or aimless eclecticism for this band.
Like all Seefeel albums, Seefeel explores variations on a very limited sound palette. In this case, the palette is anchored by ponderously hypnotic beats’n’basslines and topped off with Sarah Peacock’s cooing vocals. In the middle, you get Mark Clifford’s DSP-distressed guitar giving off all manner of bass wobbles, granular detonations and disorientatingly modulated delays.
Whereas most guitar/DSP combinations in the post-Fennesz era have aimed to humanize or naturalize experimental electronic music, Clifford’s work here essentially makes rock sound more alien and uncanny than one might reasonably think it could in this day and age. This is a brave, brilliantly realised and multi-dimensional album; genuinely dreamlike in its smeared clarity and as alienating as it is beautiful. (The Moritz von Oswald Trio has been pulling off a similar trick over the last few years.)
Fennesz is extra-relevant here, by the way. The great man’s combination of classic-rock guitar stylings and cutting-edge DSP deconstruction has been responsible for some of the most thoughtful, innovative music of the last 15 years. But his style is perhaps too fractured and abstract to have a direct impact on the broader culture of popular music. Seefeel represents an attempt to apply Fennesz-esque techniques to the “traditional” rhythms and structures of pop/rock. As such, it sounds like a proposal for a more reflective, less destructive – but not unrealistically utopian – future.
In the past, many people sought out music that sounded like the future. Nowadays, some of us are just searching for music that makes us feel like there’s going to be a future. Seefeel shoots the beast of inevitable entropy down with a single enigmatic glance. Seriously.
Near perfect and damn well necessary, Seefeel is this here blog’s album of the year. The fact that nobody else seems to regard it so highly is distressing on any number of levels.
2. Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place (12k) CD [& To Describe George Washington Bridge (Dekorder) 10″ & Remain (Line) CD]
An absolutely glorious excursion into pure ambient bliss-out from one of the tried-and-tested masters of digital electronica. The methodology here is probably pretty simple, as anyone who’s spent time playing with SoundHack will tell you. But while digital technology might make it easy to create sounds a bit like this, it’s something else to weave those sounds into an gigantic, undulating eiderdown of heavenly cumulus.
A Static Place consists of five pieces, four of which are exactly 10 minutes long. Like the Seefeel album, it’s based around a very limited selection of signature textures – the repeated deployment of spectral twisting and twinkling in the high end being the key to precisely why A Static Place is so seductive.
Most of the audio samples at the root of these twinkly textures were apparently sourced from Mathieu’s collection of vintage 78 RPM records – hence the “static” in the title. But any surface noise here is rendered as an unbroken, oceanic pink noise bliss-hiss, with no pops or irruptions to disrupt the flow. So seamless is the sound, in fact, that it seems faintly ridiculous to keep referring to Mathieu as a “glitch” artist, just because he’s a German guy with a laptop.
In spite of its restricted sonic parameters and its seamless flow, A Static Place is anything but one-dimensional. You could lose your mind in the heady heights of this album – this goddamn heroic inner space voyage.
3. Tape – Revelationes (Immune) LP
Perhaps the loveliest album yet from Sweden’s digitally-enhanced pastoral post-rock trio. There’s nothing unexpected here – beautiful guitar and keyboard melodies buoyed upon lightly-brushed rhythms, topped off with some unobtrusive granular audio manipulations. Tape’s music has always been just edgy enough to prevent it becoming blandly decorative but – in this case – the more-than-usually-beautiful melodies really kick things up a notch. Revelationes is absolutely bloody gorgeous; ravishing!
There’s a truly utopian sensibility to this music, albeit an unassuming, decidedly non-didactic sensibility (all of which is compounded by the lovely cover art). Compared to this, most 2011 releases sound unattractively decadent, bloated and pointless. Like the Seefeel album, this record hints at a better future that can only be glimpsed through the abstract medium of experimental music (in these blighted, dogmatically politicized times, a least). That may be reading too much into what is basically just a very pretty instrumental post-rock record but an album quite this pretty can really give you ideas.
4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software) LP
If the already-classic Returnal felt like the culmination of something, Replica feels like the start of something – something good and something less tied to recognizable analogue tropes – but just the start of something, nevertheless. Whatever it is, Daniel Lopatin hasn’t quite perfected it yet, which is the only reason Oneohtrix Point Never hasn’t been awarded Bubblegum Cage III Album of the Year two years in a row.
Sampling has cropped up in Lopatin’s work before (on Memory Vague, for instance) but it has never been pushed quite so far to the fore. Oneohtrix is associated with the whole synth drone thing but Lopatin is clearly making an effort to prioritize digital methods. He’s even – sacrelige! – worked a laptop into his live set-up.
Apparently, most of the samples come from vintage TV adds, so Lopatin is still exploring the intersections of memory and popular culture. But he’s doing so in a more vivid, critical way than most of his hypnagogic peers. The sound here is spacious, raw and glitchy. The deployment of sound is both achingly beautiful and disarmingly witty. The most obvious comparison might be to 94 Diskont-era Oval, which is interesting because the last Oval album was a close runner up to Returnal in last year’s to 10.
Oh and c’mon guys, it’s a pun on 106.7FM (Boston’s soft rock station), so it’s pronounced “one oh tricks point never”. Is that really so hard?
5. Woebot – Chunks (Hollow Earth) LP
More sample-collage fun, this time concentrating on re-situating slices of 70s hard rock heaviosity. Part of the fun comes from hearing these big beer farts of sound hermetically sliced’n’diced and arranged with neat (but unfussy) precision. The real fun, though, comes from the fact that this approach doesn’t drain the idiot joy from the source material. If anything, the mighty Woebot’s attention to detail and ear for a hook only make things sillier and more energizing.
The fact that “Argos” has not yet topped the UK pop charts is proof positive that the world has gone mad.
6. Alva Noto – Univrs 2LP [& Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – Summvs CD & Cyclo – Id 12″] (all Raster-Noton)
An astonishing year for Carsten Nicolai. Three releases so consistently compelling that it’s extremely hard to pick a favourite. His latest piano-versus-laptop duel with Ryuichi Sakamoto is perhaps the duo’s most satisfying face-off yet. But Univrs is just so stridently rocking and robotically funky that it seems like the real award winner here. And it truly is a winner – there are numerous moments on this album where you’ll simply want to stand up and applaud. Explosive stuff!
7. Kellarissa – Moon of Neptune (Mint) LP
Exceptionally lunar tunes from the pride of Vancouver. There was a fair bit of hype about solo, female avant-synthpop artists this year. The fact that Kellarissa got left out of the mix was a grave injustice. Maybe we can put it down to her duties as keyboard player in Destroyer taking up the time that would otherwise have been spent promoting this album. In any case, take a listen to “Undock” and then try to say that shit ain’t world-class.
8. Hype Williams – One Nation (Hippos in Tanks) LP
Smirky, lo-fi retro pastiche that should be annoying but is actually weirdly affecting. This London duo’s “we’re so mysterious” self-mythologizing is unnecessary – the real mystery is how so much beauty results from such an unpromising approach. One Nation is almost Ween-esque in its ability to confuse, irritate and beguile.
9. Charalambides – Exile (Kranky) 2LP
The wholly other avant rock duo’s best album yet? The words “peerless” and “singular” are doubtless used repeatedly elsewhere in this post but… what the hell: PEERLESS AND SINGULAR!
This is an unusually rugged and upfront Charalambides release, with Tom Carter spooling off endless desert psych/blues guitar lines while his ex, the divine Christine, croons diary entries close up into the mic. The results are at once stark and hypnotic. A tough trick to pull off but a damn effective one.
Five years in the making. A major release.
10. BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale Agency) LP
A truly epic and brilliantly structured ambient excursion from Scandinavia. A Static Place is lovelier and Cindytalk’s Hold Everything Dear (see below) is perhaps more ambitious but Big Shadow Montana has an impact all its own, perhaps because it manages to pull off the difficult balancing act between expansiveness and concision.
Sounds like a David Lynch movie. Let’s get this clear, though: it doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie, it sounds like the film itself. Does that sense? No? Well, neither does the record. This is that ol’ space shit!
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky) 2LP [& Dropped Pianos (Kranky) 12″/LP]
Ravedeath is basically a consolidation of the more-droney-less-glitchy work Tim Hecker has been doing since Harmony in Ultraviolet but that’s not to damn it with faint praise – this is a brilliant concentration of everything that has made his recent work so irresistible. Add strangely melancholy, faux-rave gated synths and you’ve got a very strong contender for a top 10 spot.
The Dropped Pianos mini LP provides some insight into the raw material behind Ravedeath and is an unusually “live”-sounding release for Hecker.
Moritz von Oswald Trio – Horizontal Structures (Honest Jon’s) 2LP [& Vladislav Delay Quartet – s/t (Honest Jon’s) 2LP & Vladislav Delay – Vantaa (Raster-Noton) CD]
The Basic Channel man takes his trio on its most recognizably musical excursion yet. Horizontal Structures lacks the alien weirdness of previous releases but it’s irresistible and singular nonetheless.
The quartet led by MVOT percussionist Vladislav Delay is a much darker proposition, perhaps because of the the jet-black electronic madness unleashed by Mika Vainio (ex of Pan Sonic) throughout.
Vlad’s solo album on Raster-Noton seems a bit like a step back into his electronic comfort zone, after the more “live” sound of Tummaa. Maybe the Trio and Quartet are satiating his need to jam with “proper” musicians.
Belong – Common Era (Kranky) LP
Fans of Belong’s de facto Fennesz tribute album October Language looked askance at the New Orleans duo’s move into lo-fi pop territory but Common Era is actually the sound of a band coming into its own. Dreamy.
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD) 2LP
Gang Gang has been threatening to go pop for some time now and Eye Contact is pretty much that threat made a promise – parts of it sound like a dangerously out-of-control Black Eyed Peas! Somehow, though, this band has never quite delivered on its promise and it still seems like the best is yet to come.
Secret Pyramid – The Silent March (Nice Up International) cassette
Incredibly beautiful and accomplished space rock from here in Vancouver. Essential for all you fans of Flying Saucer Attack and lovesliescrushing, assuming you can track down this (as yet) tape-only release. Vinyl releases in 2012?
Fennesz + Sakamoto – Flumina (Touch) 2CD
Christian Fennesz’s collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto have never been as satisfying as Carsten Nicolai’s and this is really just more of the same, only three times as long and with rather darker, more probing piano work from Sakamoto. Nice though.
Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow 2LP [& Director’s Cut 2LP] (both Fish People)
The “real” new album, 50 Words for Snow, is like a more stripped-down version of the previous “proper” album, Aerial. It’s not up there with her best but it’s solid and often deeply evocative, other than the truly abysmal Elton John cameo. Director’s Cut is a reasonably successful attempt to redeem some of Kate’s lesser works – essential for committed fans but not for the rest of you.
- King Midas Sound – Without You (Hyperdub) 2LP
An album of remixes and “revoices”. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But listen, it’s a Kevin Martin album with Green Gartside from Scritti Politti singing on one song – it’s obviously going to be awesome. “Come and Behold” is SONG OF THE YEAR. The Hype Williams and Gang Gang Dance remixes are just gravy.
Cindytalk – Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego) 2LP
It was a good year for epic, highly structured ambient albums. This effort from art-goth veterans Cindytalk was up there with the best of ’em.
The Field – Looping State of Mind (Kompakt) 2LP+CD
A slight step back artistically but a reliably vivifying collection of blissed out tech-house, all the same.
Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke – Indeed (Editions Mego) 2LP
Reliably excellent and abstract duo album from two avant rock/electronica A-listers.
James Blake – s/t (Universal) 2LP
Probably the most divisive album of the year – you either loved it or hated it. This here blog loved about 75% of it but the emo element and nagging repetition of lyrical phrases does grate after a while. Basically, “I Never Learned to Share” sucks.
Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs (130701) LP
Prepared piano, electronics, live drums and a whole bunch of lovely.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns (130701) 2LP
An oddly ominous-sounding anthem to the glory days of the union movement. It’s a movie soundtrack, so maybe it makes more sense with the visuals. In any case, a real kick in the arse for those who think this kind of post-minimalist eclecticism (see also Sylvain Chauveau, Max Richter etc.) is just so much apolitical pleasantness.
In Sepents & Seas – Notes from the Quiet Household (no label) download
More spooky soundscapes from the ever-reliable Charlie Martineau aka Esperik Glare. Name-your-price download from here.
Kelvox1 – Grazed Red (no label) download
Large scale contemporary UK post-rock. Not currently available, as the band is planning a hard-copy release for 2012. It’ll be worth the wait.
Loscil – coast/range/arc (Glacial Movements) CD
Another great ambient record from 2011. Vancouver’s Scott Morgan abandons the glitch beats and live instruments for some serious electronic flotation tank music. Glacial in its pace, crystalline in its clarity.
Half Man Half Biscuit – 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (Probe Plus) LP+CD
It’s hard to imagine anything more different from the Loscil album than this latest effort from England’s greatest comedy rock (sorry Taylor) institution. “L’Enfer c’est les Autres”, in particular, is absolutely pant-pissingly funny.
Xela – Exorcism (no label) download
Instead of releasing his final album as Xela as a nice vinyl edition on his own Type label, John Twells has chosen to go the free download route. This is slightly perplexing as, to these here ears, Exorcism sounds like the best Xela album evar! Dark but not as doomy as the title might suggest. More bliss, less horror and all the better for it.
Byetone – Symeta (Raster-Noton) LP
Another great year for Raster-Noton. Actually, it’s incredible how first-generation glitch labels like Raster and Mego have managed to stay relevant (Mille Plateaux, not so much). This is like a more organic, dubby version of the Alva Noto album. Other Raster artists (Frank Bretschneider, Senking…) have been exploring similar ground over the last couple of years, with mixed results. This immediately jumps out as a more successful expedition than most.
Lawrence English – The Peregrine (Experimedia) LP
English seems like someone who is yet to make his definitive musical statement. Reports that The Peregrine is his masterwork have been greatly exaggerated. Basically, it’s a more expansive take on the recent Tim Hecker sound. It’s not unsatisfying but you’re left with the feeling that he can and will do better.
Singles, EPs etc.
Burial – Street Halo (Hyperdub) 12″
Bloody hell, he just gets better! Albeit gradually. The post-dubstep pioneer is progressing at his own sweet pace. A tiny step for him is a giant thrill ride for the rest of us. This may be his most purely beautiful release so far.
Fennesz – Seven Stars (Touch) 10″
Very, very solid four-track release from the governor. The introduction of a steady, live drum beat on the title track is a nice touch but the rest is business as usual. Nothing wrong with that, in this case.
Shackleton – “Fireworks” 2×12″ & Actress – “Harrier ATTK”/”Gershwin” 12″ (both Honest Jon’s)
It was a stellar year for Honest Jon’s. “Fireworks” saw a return to form for ethno-dubstep lurker Shackleton, after his rather underwhelming Fabric mix CD, while Actress gave us more of his trademark hyper-compressed avant techno.
The Automatics Group – Auto 17 (Or) 12″
Generic analogue synthesizer drone continued to be big news this year but genuinely otherworldly synth weirdness was thin on the ground. Thank goodness, then, for this impeccably odd release from York’s Automatics Group.
Spell – Hex (Panospria) download
Thankfully, this is not the Spell which features (gag!) Boyd Rice. And sadly, it’s not a song-by-song reinterpretation of Hex by Bark Psychosis. Instead it’s a Vancouver duo purveying a hard-to-classify mix of effects-pedal haze, laptop beats and incantory vocals. Free download from here.
Andy Stott – Passed Me by (Modern Love) 12″/LP
It almost did! Andy Stott seems to be operating in the same hyper-compressed, sample-based, post-techno space as actress. Seductive stuff but – as with Actress – the deliberately excessive use of side-chaining compression can lead to ear fatigue pretty quickly. Perhaps that’s why both artists are concentrating on short-form releases, rather than full-length albums. Stott released another mini LP in 2011 (We Stay Together – haven’t heard it yet) and the two releases are now available together on a double CD.
Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian) CD
Probably the most important re-issue of all time, so why the fuck isn’t it available on vinyl?!? WHY???????????
Now, RELEASE THIS FUCKING THING ON VINYL, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!
My Bloody Valentine – Lost Tracks & Rare Cuts (Alti Philosophi) LP
A bootleg – obviously – but a very welcome one. True MBV fans will definitely need those recently-discovered demos on wax, after all.
***BEGIN EDIT – MAJOR OVERSIGHT***
The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet) 3CD
Something important always gets left out but the fact that this lavish box-set was absent from the original version of the list… well, that ain’t okay. Put it down to this being the year that the Bubblegum Cage III finally got sick of The Fall. Still, this is essential. While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of 2010’s essential Wonderful & Frightening World of… 4CD set, this should still stand as a stern corrective to those who believe that The Fall ran out of steam after finally leaving Rough Trade for good or that Ersatz GB is the best Mark E. Smith can do. More, please!
***END EDIT – SORRY ABOUT THAT***
Arthur Russell – Let’s Go Swimming (Audika) 12″
A classic slab of electro-pop wildness, again and again and again. How can you resist?
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (Ba-Da-Bing) LP
Over the last few years, original vinyl copies of Talk Talk’s extraordinary swansong have been going for about $100. Earlier this year, an apparently rather dodgy bootleg seemed to be doing the rounds. Now, finally, we have this legit re-issue. Essential to own for all serious avant/post-rock fans. The hair-raising feedback solo on “After the Flood” would be worth the price of admission alone.
Slowdive – Pygmalion (“Creation”) 2LP
The label name is in quotes because this kinda has to be a bootleg. Ah well, it’s still nice to have the marvelously abstract final album from this legendary shoegaze band available on wax.
Hecker – Sun Pandamonium (Pan) LP
Seriously mind-bending EXTREME COMPUTER MUSIC from Florian Hecker, in seriously luxurious packaging. Very classy.
Lawrence English – Kiri No Oto (Digitalis) LP
A very welcome vinyl edition. Just as good as the actual new album.
Releases by connect_icut & on CSAF RecordsObviously, it would be a massive conflict of interests to include any connect_icut/CSAF-related stuff in any of the actual lists. But it would be remiss not to encourage you all to grip these free downloads…
connect_icut – Let’s Hear it for the Vague Blur (Panospria) download
The fifth album by connect_icut, gloriously remastered by Joshua “Magneticring” Stevenson. Imagine a mid point between those Heckers, Tim and Florian. Now, get it here.
Not Me – 2011 12s Vols. 1-5 (CSAF) downloads
Deep, dark Chain Reaction-style beats plus whatever the remixers felt like doing. Said remixers included Loscil, Fieldhead, Kuma and Vincent Parker. That’s right: Loscil! Get them all here.
Not Me – “lss (Lim’s Verges of Tears)” from Vol. 2
connect_icut – They Showed Me the Secret Beaches (CSAF) download
The fourth and best connect_icut album, originally (and still) available as a vinyl LP, now available as a high-quality, full-album download FOR A DOLLAR! How can you resist? Get it here.
The Fall – Ersatz GB (Cherry Red) LP
Look, every Fall album has its moments but it’s hard to make a case for this rather half-hearted exercise. Down there with Are You are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC.
Mountains – Air Museum (Thrill Jockey) LP
Okay, so it’s not that bad but it is a dispiriting exercise in unimaginative analogue synth drone. This Brooklyn duo has spent years sticking to its guns, gradually building an audience for its consitently-unfashionable-but-equally-consistently-affecting mix of field recordings, acoustic guitar picking and electronic sound manipulation. Why jump on someone else’s bandwagon at this stage? And why do it so clumsily?
What Didn’t Get Heard Yet?
Oh, all sorts of “exotic” music from other cultures, that footwork business, various synthpop ladies, countless releases on Dekorder, Editions Mego, Kranky, Raster-Noton, Touch and Type plus stuff by Actress, Anarchist Republic of Bzzz, Beequeen, The Caretaker, Destroyer, Hype Williams, Giuseppe Ielasi, Mount Kimbie, Nochexxx, No UFOs, Oval, Pinch & Shackleton, Andy Stott, SunnO))) meets Nurse with Wound and goodness knows what else.
The Oval is obviously this year’s big missing piece. As previously mentioned, O was number two in last year’s top 10. OvalDNA, a 2CD collection of rarities, unreleased tracks, samples and software seems to have been released in Europe at the end of last month but there doesn’t appear to be any North American release planned, let alone a vinyl release (which would be technically impossible, to a certain extent). Anyone out there heard it?
Hard to recall. Fennesz and Philip Jeck in London stands out as a memorable highlight, as does Oval and Mountains in Vancouver. Going to see Prince this week!
Bert Jansch 1943-2011
Trish Keenan 1968-2011
Other Lists You Should Take a Look at
(Updated regularly – more coming soon)
Blissblog (Simon Reynolds)
Everything’s Exploding (members only)
Largehearted Boy (list of lists)
Metacritic (chart of charts)
You may remember this here blog’s recent year-end roundup post freely acknowledging that there were a lot of intriguing 2010 releases that were still in the pile marked “to hear”. Naturally, the Christmas season – with all it’s accompanying free time and Albums of the Year lists – provided a great opportunity to catch up on some listening. Often, this meant finally giving a serious listen to things that reputable sources had been bigging up for months. In other cases, it meant tracking down physical copies of recent releases by favourite artists. Most of all, though, it meant having lots of great new (and old) music to listen to. Here are three of the most notable discoveries…
Forest Swords – Dagger Paths (Old English Spelling Bee) LP
It’s ridiculous that the Bubblegum Cage III slept on this one for so long. Perhaps the association with a record label primarily known for pumping out lo-fi nostalgia rock was the off-putting factor here. Dagger Paths has been described as a cross between the modish “hynagogic pop” sound and Burial-style avant dubstep. The hypnagogic comparison doesn’t really ring true, though. There’s no sign of fuggy 80s pop pastiche here. Furthermore, despite being connected with on one of the US underground’s hippest imprints, Forest Swords is a British artist and – more to the point – Dagger Paths is a thoroughly British sounding record. Much of the music presented on this mini album is strongly reminiscent of pioneering UK post-rock acts like Scorn and Moonshake (and if it recalls an American band, it’s the UKPR-flavoured Nudge, whose As Good as Gone was this hear blog’s Album of the Year in 2009). Apparently, though, it was post-punk that was the major influence here. Certainly, there’s a bit of the Fall sound here, most clearly audible in those Stephen Hanley-esque bass stylings.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, Dagger Paths is right up this here blog’s alley. So much so, in fact, that it definitely would have made it into the 2010 top ten if it had been given a fair hearing before that list was compiled. Apologies to all the people who recommended it earlier in the year.
Forest Swords – “If Your Girl” (an Aaliyah cover!)
Grasslung – Sincere Void (Root Strata) CD
Again, this is an album that some extremely hip listeners were pushing last year and one that nobody among BBCIII’s massed editorial ranks actually got around to hearing until January. Doh! So much beauty ignored for so long!! Basically, Sincere Void is a more analogue-focused take on the recent Fennesz sound. In fact, opening track “Scarred Hands They Drifted” could be straight off Venice. That chord sequence sounds seriously familiar. What this album most closely recalls, though, is the Tim Hecker-influenced guitar atmospherics of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s Love is a Stream – which makes sense because it was released on Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata label.
So, while this may not be one of the more original releases of recent times, it is one of the loveliest. Yep, definitely should have caught onto this one sooner. Apologies, again, to all those who recommended it way back when.
The Fall – The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall [Omnibus Edition] (Beggars Banquet) 4CD + book
This is the big one, in more ways than one. Four CDs of remastered album tracks, singles, B sides, rarities, radio sessions and live recordings orbiting the serious gravity of what anyone who isn’t a twat knows to be The Fall’s best album. At the end of 2010, it was looking like Editions Mego’s 2LP pressing of Fennesz’s Endless Summer was going to take the prize for Not Only Re-Issue of the Year but Also Best Re-Issue Evar! Well, this one is even better. The Bubblegum Cage III doesn’t usually discuss re-issues in a best-of-the-year context but this one is just too darn choice to pass up on.
The only real quibble here is that the oral history presented in the accompanying book seems designed specifically to reinforce well-established but short-sighted critical dogmas, when it should have been the perfect opportunity to challenge these very dogmas. Wonderful & Frightening…, according to the history presented here, represents the beginning of The Fall’s “pop period” – catchy choruses came into play as never before, producer John Leckie made the band sound clean ‘n’ tuneful and “Bug Day” was just a bit of filler. This, of course, is bullshit. In reality, Wonderful & Frightening… is essentially a better realised Hex Enduction Hour – an onslaught of monumental avant rock barbarism and sparse, abstract melancholia. Are tracks like”Lay of the Land” and the contemporary single “No Bulbs” really any more approachable, than “Totally Wired” or “How I Wrote Elastic Man”? The stuff about Leckie putting the band in tune is particularly galling, as he famously did the exact opposite – knocking all the guitars slightly out of tune, to give the band a bigger, rawer sound. Oh well, British rock historians have never let reality get in the way of a good party line, have they?
Still, it goes without saying that this is a 100% essential purchase for all Fall fans and anyone with a serious interest in rock history. Huge. The hugest.
There were a lot of great records this year. Sure, it may not have felt like A Great Year for Music, as such but there were at least a few records that had all the tell-tell signs of future-classic status. More to the point, there was something in the air – a subtle shift; a hint of a near future where musicians will once again aspire to make classic records. Some of this year’s best albums had a genuine freshness – something that hasn’t been sensed much at all in recent times (in fact, much of the best music in recent memory has fairly reveled in its own fusty mustiness).
This diffuse sense of freshness might have more to do with listeners’ attitudes than with the music itself. Gradually, snobbery is giving way to inclusiveness and fear is giving way to curiosity. A lot of the music that would have been extremely marginal during the previous decade is now finding at least a modicum of an audience.
It is affecting the music too. Some artists who might previously have been satisfied to simply do their thing now appear determined to do something else altogether – see the Album of the Year for proof. So, for audiences and artists alike, ambition and originality are coming back into style. 2010 may not have been a vintage year but it was a pretty good year. And more importantly, it left us with the impression that things are only going to get better over the coming decade.
The usual disclaimers apply, especially this one: nobody has enough time on their hands to do a particularly good job of writing a monumentally epic blog post like this one, so you’ll doubtless forgive the cavalcade of typos, marginal grammar and stylistic clunkers appearing throughout (not to mention the rather half-baked theories outlined above).
THE TOP TEN
1. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego) LP
(Also, Returnal 7″)
Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) has built a reputation as a pastiche artist par excellence – someone able to conjure up a bygone age of analogue synth atmospherics with the flick of his calculator-watch-clad wrist. For people whose appreciation of Lopatin’s work is dependent on this perception, Returnal was a disappointment, not to say something of a shock.
The fact is, though, the popular perception of Oneohtrix Point Never is somewhat inaccurate. First of all, it’s worth noting that Lopatin is not a straight-up analogue purist. The two main weapons in his arsenal seem to be a hybrid analogue/digital synth (the Roland Juno 60) and a fairly recent “groove box” sampler (the magnificent Korg ES-1).
Furthermore, there’s always been more to OPN music than sci-fi-themed synth-scapes. For instance, Lopatin’s “echo jams”, as showcased on projects like Memory Vague, use sample processing to take fragments of 80s pop into weird new places. Spiritually, this puts OPN in league with those lo-fi yacht rockers in the hypnagogic pop movement but in material terms, much of Lopatin’s work bears little structural resemblance to anything else out there.
With all this in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Returnal was released by Editions Mego (a label commonly associated with austere laptop electronica) or that the album’s first side opens with a prolonged burst of sliced-up digital noise. Admittedly, the sheer onslaught of “Nil Admirari” is rather bracing but the way it dissolves into “Describing Bodies” and returns, in dubbed-out form, at the end of the album (as “Preyouandi”) suggests that this is, to some extent, OPN business as usual. Y’see, like all Oneohtrix albums, Returnal has an extremely dramatic sense of narrative structure.
It might just be his most ambitious narrative yet – it’s certainly his most ambitious structure yet. Whatever its context, whatever its influences and affiliations, Returnal is musically magnificent. A genuinely uncanny false memory – a glimpse of an improbable past or the very possibility of a future. And the album of the year.
The 7″ that followed the album really helped to cement Returnal’s brilliance in many people’s minds. By re-imagining the album’s title track in collaboration with Antony (he of the Johnsons) and Bubblegum Cage III hero Christian Fennesz, Lopatin showed his willingness to step out of the hypnagogic basement and into the light of a whole new world.
2. Oval – O (Thrill Jockey) 2LP + download
(Also, Oh 12″, Ringtones download and Ringtones II download)
One slight bummer about 2010 was that some of the year’s most striking and original music was made by a bunch of old has-beens from the 90s. Shouldn’t the young guns be taking care of this sorta thing? It’s just weird. Kinda creepy and wrong.
Really though, who would have thought Seefeel would turn up and release the best single of the year (Faults)? And who would have thought Markus “Oval” Popp would ever show his face again – with that look of vague bureaucratic indifference still intact? Popp, you’ll remember, backed himself into a theoretical corner about 10 years ago, at which time he was commonly making pronouncements along the lines of “who cares what I think the music should sound like?”
Around the same time, glitch – the sub-genre of experimental electronica that Oval basically invented – was seriously running out of creative steam. If a great inventor and innovator like Popp was going to make a comeback somewhere down the line, he’d surely have to distance himself from the generic clicks-and-cuts that came in the wake of classic Oval albums like the all-but-peerless 94 Diskont. Perhaps sensing this, Popp only recently managed to break his creative and theoretical deadlock – and he did so by almost completely reinventing the Oval project.
Much has been made of changes to Popp’s technical set-up – swapping custom-made software for generic plug-ins; improvising on actual instruments… But the real change that gave birth to the new Oval sound was a slight but significant shift in theoretical focus. Oval was always a critical project – one dedicated to a thorough but non-aggressive deconstruction of its chosen subject matter. But whereas the subject matter of Oval in the 90s was digital audio, the reboot zoomed in on music itself. Oval 2010-style seems very much like Popp’s attempt to take music apart in order to see how it works, both materially and in a more abstract, semiotic or even spiritual sense.
O and the EPs that accompanied it (Popp refers to the whole project as “O(h)”) are certainly his most musical releases, in the conventional sense. The really shocking thing for many long-term fans was the appearance of four-square rhythms, pounded out on a real live drum set. Hearing out-and-out beats in Oval-world was so shocking that many people didn’t even seem to notice that most of the other sounds were originally produced by acoustic guitars. Oval with acoustic guitars? What is this – a Gastr Del Sol record???
Well, no it’s not. It’s not even like that at all. Hell, it’s not quite like anything else (always a running theme in any good end-of-year-list). Perhaps it’s like a Gastr record in spirit, though – in it’s determination to poke and prod the most standard of musical building blocks into startling new shapes. This is where the freshness comes in – the whole O(h) project fairly reeks of clean air and renewed vigour.
Popp certainly seems pleased with the new sound he’s invented. He must have released going on for 100 tracks this year (many of them short “ringtones”) – and all drawn from the same basic musical template. Having thoroughly investigated this particular formula, one has to wonder where he’ll turn his attention next. Can’t wait to find out!
3. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers (Hotflush) 2×12″
Dubstep has been twisting itself into all sorts of odd shapes over the last few years, some more interesting than others. The two main modes of post-dubstep strangeness seem to be obnoxious quirkiness (aka wonky) and a strangely emo tendency towards doleful emotionalism (everyone who wants to be the next Burial – you know who you are, emostep culprits!) Not that this stuff is bad per se – much of it is actually very enjoyable. It just seems a little cheap somehow; lacking in charm.
The two fresh-faced lads in Mount Kimbie, on the other hand, make music that’s as charming as can be. Sure, their sound is off-kilter and soulful but it doesn’t have the smugness or the self-pitying glumness that blights a lot of related sounds. Saying Crooks & Lovers is unassuming sounds like damning it with faint praise. But that’s how they get you. On first listen, it all seems a bit off-hand; throwaway – short (36 minutes), light and bouncy. Listen a few times, though and it reveals itself to be ingenious, open-hearted and infectiously funky. It’s not an outwardly heavy record, in any sense but when it hits you, it hits you like a tonne of bricks. And then it apologizes for the inconvenience.
There are distinctly indie-rock-friendly elements here (not least: guitars). With many dance music acts, these would come across as cynical attempts to court the lucrative middlebrow market. But with Mount Kimbie, it all seems like a natural upshot of sincere musical interests. So, when Crooks & Lovers wins the Mercury Music Prize, it’s unlikely to go to these boys’ heads. They seem like the types to shrug something like that off and go back to doing what they actually want to be doing. Whatever that turns out to be in the future, you should be listening.
4. Sylvain Chauveau – Singular Forms [Sometimes Repeated] (Type) LP
France’s Sylvain Chuaveau is certainly versatile. His output ranges from orchestral soundtrack music, to arid digital electronica, to acoustic Depeche Mode covers(!) With its sparse, glitchy electronics and rich, declamatory vocals, Singular Forms is heavily, heavily in debt to the recent work of Scott Walker and – especially – David Sylvian. This is tricky stuff to pull off but if anyone has the chops (if not quite the voice) to make it work, it’s Sylvain Chauveau.
The David Sylvian comparisons are hard to get away from (particularly with the whole weird Sylvain/Sylvian thing) and there are a few English-as-a-Second-Language moments in the lyrics but – on the whole – the quality of the material here is high enough to make such reservations irrelevant. This is a concise album (33 minutes) but it’s an extremely ambitious one that has a genuine sense of Importance about it. Singular Forms is courageous, impressive and often incredibly beautiful.
5. Actress – Splazsh (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
While audiophiles continue to decry the overuse of compression in digital music production, artists throughout electronic dance music’s broad church are making it their aesthetic raison d’etre. The Mount Kimbie album has that pressurized feel of radically over-compressed audio but it’s Actress – aka Darren J. Cunningham – who is the high priest of compression-as-psychedelia. Splazsh perfectly embodies the pressure cooker atmosphere of a long, hot urban summer. It’s like a fire hydrant that’s fit to burst.
While Cunningham is often identified as a post-dubstep artist, his beats have the straight-ahead drive of house music and his sample-mangling techniques recall both classic hip-hop and glitch. But what this sounds most like – usually for better, occasionally for worse – is today. Splazsh is a flagrantly contemporary record; a pointedly digital, pointedly lo-fi burst of colour and energy. It should be obnoxious, thin and abrasive. Instead it’s energizing, witty and often beautiful. “How is this achieved?” you may ask. Well, it’s called musical talent and what we have here is a major talent.
(Also, it’s been suggested that Cunningham is actually using a lot of analogue technology to get that densely compressed sound, which might explain why it floods the ears, rather than simply assaulting them. Anyone who has details of this fellow’s actual working methods is encouraged to leave a comment, explaining all.)
6. Mark Van Hoen – Where is the Truth (City Centre Offices) LP
This fellow was one of the founding members of that Seefeel band (remember them, eh?) and was also involved in Seefeel spin-off act Scala. He’s additionally known for his work as Locust. Wherever he’s gone, he’s peddled a pretty nice line in experimental pop tunes. Where is the Truth continues in that vein and contains possibly the single most beautiful song of the year – “Your Voice”.
It’s great to see someone like Van Hoen, who’s been toiling at the margins for so long, still at it and producing some of his best work ever. His live performance at the Decibel festival in Seattle was one of the highlights of the year, too.
7. Loscil – Endless Falls (Kranky) 2LP
Vancouver’s Scott Morgan – aka Loscil – began incorporating live instruments into his electronic sound-scapes a couple of albums back. The results were predictably seamless – twinkling Fender Rhodes and aching e-bow guitar stitched artfully into Morgan’s thick, warm blankets of sound. On Endless Falls, Loscil continues this aspect of his explorations but displays a new willingness to let the instruments be themselves, rather than merging them into the overall field of sound.
It’s not a huge change but then it never is with Loscil. His work is all about gradual development, after all – inky loops incrementally gaining density over repetitive but intricate rhythmic patter(n)s. Still it’s a significant change; a quantum leap, of sorts. What it brings to Scott’s sound is a previously unheard human agent, which adds to the considerable emotional weight behind his music. This effect is compounded by the appearance of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, providing spoken-word vocals on album closer “The Making of Grief Point”.
And unlike all previous Loscil albums, this one is available on vinyl. Which makes it the one to get, if only by default.
8. Klimek – Movies is Magic (Extended Version) (Anticipate) LP
In 2009, Klimek – aka Sebastian Meissner – released a CD called Movies is Magic, which turned out to be one of the best abstract electronica albums of that year. This year, Meissner made the rather perverse move of releasing a rather more accessible and musically conventional version of the same album exclusively on vinyl.
This Extended Version adds torch song vocals and danceable beats (and some more slightly unfortunate ESL lyrics) to the original album’s appropriately cinematic atmospheres. Theoretically, this could have resulted in some sub-Portishead dinner party music. But there’s plenty here to stop that happening. Fierce intelligence, a palpable sense of dramatic tension, thematic cohesiveness, a non-specific sense of melancholy and an ongoing commitment to no-holds-barred abstraction all conspire to steer this LP way clear of any tepid socializing. It’s an act of sly musical seduction that someone like Matthew Herbert can only dream of.
Great cover too.
9. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Autumn, Again (Mis Ojos Discos) LP
(Also, Nitetime Rainbows 12″)
Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow made it onto last year’s list too. How, you might ask, does a contemporary indie rock band make it onto the Bubblegum Cage III’s year-end list for two years in a row? The answer is obvious: Because this band is fucking awesome, that’s why! But to be more specific, it’s because A Sunny Day in Glasgow is the only contemporary indie rock band that really matters – the only one the goes beyond its specific influences and the current fashions, to produce something truly unique and special.
Hyperbole? Sure but isn’t that the default mode of indie rock criticism? To be a bit more “fair and balanced”, it did seem, a while back, like indie rock was undergoing some sort of creative renaissance. There are certainly some reasonably interesting acts out there catering to the indie audience (Dirty Projectors being a notable example, with various others cropping up on this here blog’s summer mix CD). But most of the current crop of more-interesting-than-you-might-expect indie rockers are really only good for a song or two, usually downloadable from The Hype Machine. ASDiG’s songs, on the other hand, are so immediately energizing and resonant that they fairly compel the attentive listener to seek out at least one whole album.
Autumn Again is a good one to seek out. Like several of this year’s best, it’s a short album (33 minutes, in case you’ve keeping track). Apparently, it’s made up of out-takes from 2009’s epic Ashes Grammar. This seems hard to believe because – as the subtitle Pop Songs 2010 suggests – Autumn Again contains some of the catchiest tunes ASDiG has ever written. If you were making an album and you’d written songs as infectious as “Drink, Drank, Drunk” and “How Does Somebody Say When They Like You?”, why would you leave them off the finished product?
Perhaps it makes sense, though. Ashes Grammar was like one huge ebbing, flowing unified whole. The discrete pop songs featured here might get lost in that oceanic mass – they fare better in this slimmed-down, compartmentalized context.
Other than that, this release represents sonic business as usual: multi-tracked, half-buried vocals, heavily processed guitars, imaginative use of electronics and lashes of reverb on everything. But it’s not what they do, its the way they do it. And right now, nobody does it better than A Sunny Day in Glasgow.
10. Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo (Editions Mego) 2LP
(Also, Fennesz – Szampler cassette, On – Something That Has Form & Something That Does Not LP, Fennesz Daniell Buck – Knoxville LP, Fenn O’Berg – Live in Japan Part One LP, Fenn O’Berg – Live in Japan Part Two LP and a bunch of reissues)
Blimey! 2010 saw a veritable onslaught of Fennesz-related vinyl. Perhaps the most notable release was In Stereo, which reactivated the great man’s long-dormant trio with Peter “Pita” Rehberg and Jim O’Rourke.
Unlike the previous Fenn O’Berg releases, In Stereo is a “proper” studio album. Whereas those previous releases were goofy, mind-bending and occasionally beautiful, In Stereo is dramatically structured, dynamic and not a little dark. The emphasis is still on chaotic laptop duelling but there seems to be a bit of live instrumentation in the mix too. On “Part I” there’s even a rather stirring drum solo! The point is that, by moving into the studio, these Fenn O’Berg chaps came up with the most serious and the most seriously brilliant music they’ve ever recorded together.
To be honest, though, the material on the two (2!) live Fenn O’Berg albums that Mego put out later in the year was just as good as the studio material (especially the phenomenal first side of Live in Japan Part One). Also notable was Szampler, a cassette dump of audio from Fennesz’s old hardware samplers, which makes for a surprisingly coherent listening experience. Something That Has Form… also deserves a shout out here – it’s a low key but utterly beguiling collaboration with On – aka that fellow Sylvain Chauveau and Steven Hess of Pan American/Labradford.
As for the re-issues, the 2LP version of Endless Summer has to be heard to be believed – the bonus tracks are superb, there’s a stunning 15-minute version of “Happy Audio”, the remixed Tina Frank artwork is gorgeous and the LPs themselves have the loudest, most vivid pressings imaginable, courtesy of Dubplates & Mastering.
BUBBLING UNDER (in rough order of preference)
Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (Drag City) 3LP
Another epic piece of work from the angelic Ms. Newsom. Still, while it is very, very long and impressively coherent, Have One On Me doesn’t quite have the sense of overreaching ambition that made Ys a classic. Instead, it has the feel of someone settling into a sound that will form the basis of a long and productive career.
The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter (Domino) 2LP
A solid effort from the greatest of all rock institutions. Not a patch on 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent but definitely in the same vein.
Woebot – Moanad (Hollow Earth) CD
The blogging legend’s most accomplished sampledelic excursion to date. A beautifully written love letter to his voluminous record collection.
The Third Eye Foundation – The Dark (Ici d’Ailleurs) LP
Look who’s back! Perhaps sensing that his fan-base had lost interest in his more song-based solo career, Matt Elliott has reactivated The Third Eye Foundation’s doomy beat-scapes. Seriously, The Dark picks up exactly where 2000’s Little Lost Soul left off. Which is a bit weird because TEF has previously showed considerable album-to-album progress. Now, with ten years between albums, Elliott has chosen to give us more of the same. Which ain’t necessarily a bad thing because Little Lost Soul was a fantastic album and The Dark is an extremely ambitious development of its aesthetic.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Live in New York (Honest Jon’s) 2LP
More alien chattering from the Basic Channel man and his band of sickly techno aesthetes. Weird hearing a live crowd whooping along to the steady course of this impeccably un-dynamic music, though.
ALSO RECOMMENDED (in rough order of preference)
Seefeel – Faults (Warp) 10″
Absolutely the single of the year. A stunningly infectious and richly textured comeback by one of the most legendary acts from the early UK post-rock scene. The self-titled full-length, scheduled for a February release, promises to be one of 2011’s best albums (if “Dead Guitars” is anything to go by).
Fieldhead – Long Train Journeys (Gizeh) download
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Love is a Stream (Type) LP + CD
Pita – Mesmer (The Tape Worm) cassette
Alog/Astral Social Club – Split 12″ (Fat Cat)
Secret Pyramid – Ghosts (No label) CDR
Esperik Glare – Disruption (Else Product) CDR
Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego) 2LP
Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type) LP + CD
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (4AD) LP
Empty Love + Sade Sade – s/t (Diadem Discos/Bien Bien) CDR
Jim O’Rourke – All Kinds of People – Love Burt Bacharach (AWDR) CD
Haven’t Heard Yet
Koen Holtkamp – Gravity/Bees
anbb – Ret Marut Handshake
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Space Finale
Marcus Schmickler – Palace of Marvels
Cindytalk – The Poetry of Decay
…and goodness knows what else!
A FEW LIVE HIGHLIGHTS
Oneohtrix Point Never, Fennesz and Noveller in Seattle
Fennesz in Vancouver
Robert Henke and Mark Van Hoen in Seattle
Mount Kimbie and Teebs in Seattle
A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Solars in Vancouver
Robin Fox in Vancouver
Tim Hecker and Loscil in Vancouver
Ben Frost, Grouper, Lawrence English and Rafael Anton Irisarri in Seattle
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti in Vancouver
..and a bunch of awesome local shows in Vancouver, featuring the likes of Loscil, Pink Island, EDR, Aerosol Constellations, Ora Cogan, Fieldhead, Gunshae, Prophecy Sun, Secret Pyramid, No UFO’s, Scant Intone, Souns, Kellarissa, Magneticring, Dr. Dad’s Sound Lab, Solars, Holzkopf, Angel Lust, coin gutter, Empty Love, Broken Sleep, Glaciers, The Rita, Flat Grey, AHNA, Twin Crystals, Diadem and so many more… Quite the little scene you people have going for yourselves!
Edit: Fans of this particular scene should make sure not to miss the show at Blim on December 10, which is part of the SquareWaves festival and has a line-up including Fieldhead, Secret Pyramid & Scant Intone (!), Magnetic Ring and many more.
Another edit: Also, there’s another Quiet City show at Blim on December 17. Details here.
A REALLY GREAT RECORD FROM 2009
Richard Skelton – Landings (Type) 2LP+CD
Keeping up with new music is hard. Compiling an end-of-year list is hard. Inevitably, you’ll spend half of, say, 2010 catching up on stuff that quite possibly should have made it into your 2009 best-of list. 2010 yielded plenty of 2009 discoveries – SunnO)))’s terrifying, hilarious and truly brilliant Monoliths & Dimensions being one notable example (Monolake’s gorgeous Silence being another, Lawrence English’s A Colour for Autumn being yet another). There isn’t room to discuss them all here but one 2009 release that deserves more than a passing mention is Richard Skelton’s Landings.
Most writing on the subject of Skelton’s music focuses on the tragic biographical events that inspired it and the unusual set of non-musical practices that are involved in its creation. All this is highly relevant but it can sometimes obscure one of the main upshots of Skelton’s unique approach to instrumental melancholy – which is that he puts out a lot of music and most of it sounds remarkably similar. It could be argued that – beautiful and unique as Skelton’s music is – most people only really need to own one of his albums. But they do need to own one – and Landings is the one they need to own.
Landings has all the slowly modulating, rough-hewn strings, sparse piano figures and subtly processed drones familiar from Skelton’s previous work. But it’s striking for both its epic scope and it relatively large amount of musical variety. Everything Richard Skelton does is beautifully realised, so when he decides to deliver a masterpiece, you know you’re in for a treat.
A COMPILATION FOR WINTER 2010/11
Why not? Click here to download the whole damned thing. And enjoy!
1. The Fall – “Bury Pts 1 & 3”
2. Oval – “Hey”
4. Darkstar – “Gold”
6. Hype Williams – “MVP ’94”
7. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Bright Lit Blue Skies”
8. anbb – “One”
12. Le Volume Courbe – “I Love the Living You”
13. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Returnal (Remixed by Christian Fennesz)”
15. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – “Mirrors Death”
16. Das Racist – “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”
And as a special bonus, here’s a re-up of last year’s winter compilation featuring The Fall, My Bloody Valentine, Antipop Consortium, King Midas Sound, Mordant Music, Broadcast & The Focus Group, Richard Youngs, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Nudge, Pulido Fennesz Siewert Stangl, Sparklehorse + Fennesz, Black to Comm, Moritz Von Oswald Trio, The Field and Flight of the Conchords.
Well, that appears to be it for another year. Seems likely that this here blog will take a bit of a break at the start of 2011 but rest assured: this ain’t over.
Peter Christopherson 1955-2010
Harvey Pekar 1939-2010
Captain Beefheart 1941-2010
OTHER LISTS (updated regularly)
My Bloody Valentine forum
Everything’s Exploding (members only, sorry!)
Rafael Anton Irisarri
The Original Soundtrack
Tiny Mix Tapes
Red Cat Records
Raven Sings the Blues